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BEARFRUIT & GROW; Louisville, KY

LeTicia Marshall, Owner and Educator

Words by LeTicia Marshall

Photos from LeTicia Marshall

Documented in Fall 2020

Bearfruit & Grow, LLC was created to encourage, empower, educate, and participate in your vegetable garden journey! We farm vegetable and herb plants and offer coaching services for anyone who wants to grow a vegetable garden in any space.

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LeTicia Marshall founded Bearfruit & Grow in 2018 and runs an urban farm, a Youtube gardening channel, and offers garden coaching services.  She has a masters degree in Social Work from the University of Louisville and currently spends her time as a full-time mom and farmer.

Normalizing is huge for me.  I feel like the world always tries to tell us that you have to be a certain way.  Do things a certain way.  There’s just so much pressure to live life!  You know?  To live!  And not a whole lot of people try to live for and think for themselves.  We are so influenced by everybody else and everything else.  And so the garden, I think, is just a space where I can be like, “You know what?  Ya’ll can think, feel, look anyway you want to when you’re in the garden.  Talk anyway you want to.  Just be you!  And if you don’t know how to do that, well, welcome to the journey.  Because I feel like the garden will help you with that process- if you allow it to.”  It’s true.  It’s so true, and I just feel like the garden can also deal with a lot of your- if you allow it to- mental health issues.  And some people walk around here like “I’m okay, I’m cool.  I don’t have nothing going on.  I have a great life-” well, you’re lying. Because, there’s something, right?

"Ya'll can think, feel, look anyway you want to when you're in the garden.  Talk anyway you want to.  Just be you!  And if you don't know how to do that, well, welcome to the journey."

But, you know, I just feel like the garden, your farm, whatever- this space that you’ve created- can be just about anything you want it to be.  And people can feel that.  People know when you are being genuine.  They know when you are excited.  They know when you are pumped up about something.  They understand that this thing is way bigger than you anyway.  I feel like it is a very spiritual encounter- the garden.  And that can mean a lot of different things for people.  But I feel like if you just allow that process to happen- and it’s not going to feel good all the time, either.  There’s been a many of times when I’m just like “Ugghh gosh!”  Like, “why is this coming out right now as I’m digging this hole for this tomato plant?!  I don’t understand what is happening,” you, know?  I’m not mad at the tomato!  Or the squash bug!  I’m mad at myself!  Because I let myself go there.  Or I let that person get to me.  Or, sometimes I come to the garden really sad.  The garden reminds me of my grandfather a lot.  And actually, I feel like I feel him there all the time.  So sometimes, I’m just sad in the garden.  But, I feel like, again, you create this space where you can just be that- and without judgement!  Who’s going to judge you?  The bug?  The plant?  I mean, the okra?  What are they gonna say?

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My grandfather passed away right after I had my daughter and she’ll be five in December.  He was a farmer.  My mother’s parents were farmers and they farmed mostly tobacco- you know, back in the day that was the big thing to do.  They had cattle, as well.  They tried all the hogs and the goats and all that, too, but mostly tobacco.  And then they had, like, a quarter of an acre vegetable garden, and they owned a grocery store.  The only black-owned grocery store in the area.  Growing up, you don’t think about any of this being, like, really cool and significant, right, because you were just told to do chores, “Take the slop bucket!  Take it on out there!”  It was horrible sometimes!  I rode the setter most of the time, for, you know, when we set the tobacco plants and stuff.  And it was like days and days of hot sun just beating down on you.  But my grandfather was always just so cool.  Like, he just did it, right?  He just did the work, and then went in, ate, and came out and did it again.  And every day- I mean it was the same thing every day- I never heard that man complain, never gripe about anything.  Well, actually, when he did have something to say, you better watch out.  You, know?  He’s that kinda guy.  He was so quiet and just so calm and he just took it all in and he would just smile and that was it.  You didn’t really hear much out of him, you know?  And that brings something- breathing right now- it just does something to me to remember him that way.  Because I want to be that way.  Everything he did I want to do!  I didn't think I’d want to farm.  Let me take that back, because again, we out in the sun, squatting behind a tree to pee, eating these big ol’ thick baloney sandwiches for lunch.  You know, it wasn’t ideal for a child.  But when we were at our grandparents’, we knew we were gonna work.  But that’s okay.  I’m glad.  I actually now, as an adult, wish they had taught us more about the business side of things.

“It’s about being self-sufficient, sustainability, learning to give back 

because we take so much anyway, you know?”

They owned their land and that land is still in the family. There’s sixty-plus acres. But, all of that I didn’t understand as a child.  Now I understand how important it is to have landownership and to learn these skills.  It’s not just about growing food.  And I’m not minimizing growing food at all, but it’s about survival.  It’s about being self-sufficient, sustainability, learning to give back because we take so much anyway, you know?  So how can we give back to the soil?  How can we give back to these animals?  What can we do to protect them the best we can and take care of them?  If it’s just picking up a styrofoam cup off the road, then just pick up the styrofoam cup, ya know what I’m sayin’? It doesn’t have to be the big complex thing.  Why can’t we just do the right thing?  But he kind of modeled all of this for me without me even knowing it.  

And my grandmother is still alive, and she is not in good health, but she just keeps going.  Like, I have never seen such a fighter.  And she’s willing!  She’s willing to keep going, like, she wants to.  It doesn’t matter what’s trying to take her out.  I mean, she just recently bought six goats and eight calves. She’s got twenty-four full grown cows in pasture still that she needs to get rid of.  She really- she doesn’t believe that she can’t.  And I’m just like, “man!”  So if she can fix herself up to keep going like this, why can’t I deal with the little bit of craziness I got and no matter what happens, just keep going?

I don’t have to have a whole big heap of land to farm on.  And that’s the significance of the urban farming concept, too.  I love the city.  I love to be in the city.  I grew up in the country all my life, but urban farming is where my heart is.  Rural America has its own things, its own battles, its own burdens, its own hurdles.  But urban farming has spoke to me even more ‘cause of all the craziness going on with injustice- food injustice- in our city and across the world!  I mean, I did not realize!  I mean, I knew there was a lot goin’ on, but the whole world?  Like the globe is protesting food insecurity, and injustice- period?!  This is crazy!

I’m not a native of Louisville, so I kinda felt I was always on the line about how much ownership I want to take to try to help, or not to help.  People are real funny about, you know, like, “You’re not even from Louisville,” you know, “Why do you care?”  And I’m like, “What?!” I had never heard that language before.  Why does it matter that I’m not from Louisville?  I just care, and I feel like the right thing to do is the right thing to do.  And so that’s where I arrived. Two years ago I had made up my mind that I’m not gonna listen to those voices anymore.  I’m not gonna listen to the people and things that completely just try to discourage the movement, the journey.  Your personal growth, your personal discovery journey- all of that- I feel like wraps up into this.  So, I’m just gonna move on and see what I can do.

There’s so many things Bearfruit and Grow is trying to be a part of and do.  And I’m totally excited about it, and open to ideas.  Open to having conversation about it.  And creating the table, too.  Cause I feel like right now, I’m okay going to everybody else’s table because I’m trying to understand the network that’s already out here.  I want to work with everyone as much as I can. What the bottom line is, though- most people are tryin’ to do the same thing.  Most people are sick and tired of the same conversation and this same scenario of people being without food, or the injustice in food systems- or systems, period- that is supposed to support human beings regardless of the way they look or where they come from.  People are sick and tired.  It’s been actually pretty cool, in my lifetime, to witness something like this!  I never thought that, I dunno, it’s just never been on my mind, that I would ever see such a movement.  But it is real.  And it is happening, like, everywhere, globally, so it’s kinda dope.

“I never thought that I would ever see such a movement.  But it is real.  And it is happening, like, everywhere, globally, so it’s kinda dope.”

Donating is one thing, but if we can create a system where people are expecting, you know, they know that “If I go to Bearfruit & Grow, I can get X, Y, and Z, and then I can go here and get that, too.  I know that I can get food.”  And not only do I want you to come to me to get food, I want you to come to me to learn how to grow your own.  And that’s one big movement I would love to see.  In my area of the city, there are no community gardens, we’re surrounded by them, but in my area, there’s nothin’ like it.  How dope would it be to at least see a whole block with a four by four garden in their front yard?!  Where they’re growing food, ya know?  That would be so dope! 

“Not only do I want you to come to me to get food, I want you to come to me to learn how to grow your own.”

I’m just going to be honest and truthful.  There’s no other way, okay?  I’m an African American female in the United States of America.  And historically for black people, and I’m not negating any other person of color or group, I’m just talking about me because that’s who I am.  Historically, there have always been systematic injustices when it comes to funding resources so that black farmers can either keep their land, keep their farms afloat, you know, all that kind of thing.  Land has been stolen from black farmers more in the South than anywhere else. There are concepts we don’t understand, but we know now that if you don’t have anything in writing, you’re pretty much screwed.  Handshakes used to mean something, but legally, it doesn’t matter.  And one thing I’ve discovered is that my family still has the land, and thank God if they’re able to keep their land.  But a lot of black families around them did not and were not.  And Kentucky is considered the South, but I’m talkin’ the deep south, I mean they went through, right?  Black American’s in this country own less than 2% of the market share and farmland.  So even in the state of Kentucky, it’s way less than that.  And then female black farmers- who does that, right?  

“People would ask me, ‘Why the heck would you want to farm and you are black in America?  Do you not understand what our people went through?’  

Yes I do.  I am completely aware.  But I’m also very very proud of our journey and our story.”

It took me a while to process this because people would ask me “Why the heck would you want to farm and you are black in America?  Why would you want to do that?  Who does that?  Do you not understand what our people went through?”  Yes I do.  I am completely aware.  But I’m also very very proud of our journey and our story.  Because my grandparents and great grandparents were farmers.  And my great-great-family were sharecroppers.  I just feel differently.  I’m not ashamed.  I think there was a point where I didn’t understand it and wasn’t sure if I wanted to embrace it.  But now more than ever, I do.  And I welcome that conversation when people ask those questions.  This is no longer about 40 acres and a mule.  It’s just about respect and doing the right thing again.  The system doesn’t owe us anything- dare I say that?  No one in this life owes you anything.  But I feel like if I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do, and I have worked hard, and you’re telling me out of your mouth that if I do X, Y, and Z, that this is what is supposed to happen, and it is in writing and I followed the rules, then I should be able to get what I need to do what I gotta do.  And then once I get it, just leave me alone and let me do what I gotta do. 

This story is an excerpt from an interview with Urban Food Stories at Tufts University. 

To learn more from her humor, wisdom, and journey to purchase land in the city, you can find the full transcript of her interview here.

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